First Aid/Heat-Related Illness & Injury

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For burns, see Thermal Burns

Heat Cramps

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Heat cramps usually occur when a person has been active in hot weather and is dehydrated.

Treating heat cramps is very simple, do the following:

  • Remove the victim from the hot environment, a shady area will suffice.
  • Stretch the calf and thigh muscles gently through the cramp. This usually results in immediate relief.
  • Hydrate the victim, use a small concentration of salt for best results. (ex. Giving the person a saltine cracker to eat while drinking.)
  • Have the victim rest.

Should the cramping continue, seek further medical advice.

Heat Exhaustion

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Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, people with high blood pressure, and people working or exercising in a hot environment.

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion

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  • Confused
  • Heavy sweating
  • Paleness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Sickness

Treatment of Heat Exhaustion

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  • Loosen the clothing.
  • Apply cool wet cloths.
  • Move the victim to either a cool or an air-conditioned area, and fan the victim.
  • Hydrate the victim, use a small concentration of salt for best results. (ex. Giving the person a saltine cracker to eat while drinking.)
  • Have the victim rest.

The treatment priority for heat exhaustion is to cool the victim. Heat exhaustion is not life-threatening (unlike heat stroke), so EMS is not needed unless the victim's condition worsens to the point of entering heat stroke. If the victim's level of consciousness is affected, that is heat stroke.

Heat Stroke

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Heatstroke occurs when the core body temperature rises too far for the body's natural cooling mechanisms to function. It is a serious, life-threatening problem that can cause death in minutes. The treatment priority with heat stroke is to call EMS and cool the victim down.

When you provide first aid for heatstroke, remember that this is a true life-and-death emergency. The longer the victim remains overheated, the higher the chances of irreversible body damage or even death occurring.

Symptoms of Heat Stroke

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  • Unconscious or has a markedly abnormal mental status
  • Flushed, hot, and dry skin (although it may be moist initially from previous sweating or from attempts to cool the person with water)
  • May experience dizziness, confusion, or delirium
  • May have slightly elevated blood pressure at first that falls later
  • May be hyperventilating
  • Rectal (core) temperature of 105 °F or more

Treatment of Heat Stroke

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  • Notify EMS.
  • Cool the victim's body immediately by dousing the body with cold water.
  • Apply wet, cold towels to the whole body.
  • Pack ice into the victim's heat-loss areas (underarms, groin, neck). Do not let ice contact the victim's bare skin as this may cause frostbite!
  • Wetting and Evaporating measures work best. (Think, artificial sweating.)
  • Move the victim to the coolest possible place and remove as much clothing as possible (ensure privacy).
  • Maintain an open airway.
  • Expose the victim to a fan or air-conditioner since drafts will promote cooling.
  • Immersing the victim in a cold water bath is also effective.
  • Give the victim (if conscious) cool water to drink.
  • Do not give any hot drinks or stimulants.
  • Never give an unconscious victim something to drink as it may obstruct the airway or cause vomiting.
  • Get the victim to a medical facility as soon as possible. Cooling measures must be continued while the victim is being transported.

Monitor the victim's vital signs frequently. Be prepared to begin CPR should the victim become unconscious and not be breathing.

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